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A headless body

By Ochereome Nnanna
WATCHING former Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, last Friday answering questions on why he took Britain to war in Iraq,  I felt very sad about my country all over again.

It is 31 months since June 27th 2007 when Blair stepped down after one decade in power. His country considered it necessary to bring him  to explain to the public how he made the decision to take the country to a war in search of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction; a Quixotic military expedition that cost the country thousands of troops.

I compared this with an attempt by the House of Representatives in 2008 to bring former President Olusegun Obasanjo to explain exactly how much he spent on the electric power projects without any sign of improvement in our power supply.

Obasanjo managed to raise enough emotional dust before he submitted a terse reply that left more questions than answers. His supporters berated the National Assembly for the invitation, which they termed an attempt to humiliate the former president. Obasanjo was not the first former ruler to refuse to appear before panels to account for their actions while office.

Former military heads of state, retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, also refused to appear before the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Panel, which investigated human rights violations during the military era.

The former President, Obasanjo, had inaugurated this Panel on June 14th, 1999 shortly after he was sworn in. Nine years later, he refused to appear at a House Committee hearing. That is Nigeria for you, where hypocrites are rewarded by being invited to rule Nigeria over and again.

Coming back to the present, my sadness swells when I see the way President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has reduced the powers of the federation entrusted to him to a personal toy which he would never give up even temporarily to enable Nigeria carry on.

The famous Section 145 of the Constitution says: “Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on a vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President”.

The drafters of this Section never imagined that a president going away for more than two months could refuse to carry out this injunction. Well, Yar’ Adua has proved once again that in Nigeria, anything is possible.

Yar’ Adua has decided to hold Nigeria to ransom because he does not know the implication of the sacred mandate he was given. He thinks it is his personal property. Meanwhile, his apologists are saying there is no vacuum. The Governor of the Central Bank, Malam Lamido Sanusi, claims that the President’s absence has not affected the economy in any way.

Fine! Then let’s get rid of the President! If the economy continues to perform despite the president’s absence and medical woes; and if the Executive Branch is functioning perfectly without its Chairman, then we don’t need him. We need a President who, when he speaks or acts the whole system (such as the stock exchange) will react immediately.

Telling us that the President’s absence has not impacted on the economy is like saying that a headless body is still alive.
There, definitely, is a big vacuum occasioned by Yar’ Adua’s refusal to write the National Assembly in order allow Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to take full charge of the affairs of the nation until (and if) he comes back from “medical vacation”.

It has stalled many programmes, including the post-amnesty deal that led to the cessation of the Niger Delta rebellion. That vacuum was responsible for the out-gone Chief Justice of Nigeria swearing in the in-coming one. If the Vice President had full acting powers of the President he would have performed that function.

The Vice President is still performing only in his limited capacity as a vice president. In that capacity, he cannot sign the 2010 budget when passed. He cannot engage the National Assembly for compromise on the budget should the need arise.

Even the National Assembly’s legislative agenda has been disrupted. Rather than focus attention on passing the budget and completing the electoral reform and constitutional amendment process, the National Assembly is now engaged in receiving concerned Nigerians and begging Yar’Adua to send the letter empowering his Deputy to take charge.

What is going on is being tagged in the outside world as a “Nigerian crisis”. A country that is leaderless for more than two months is in a catastrophe. In the days past, this is a perfect trigger for a military intervention. That the military has refrained from taking this opportunity to return to power is a measure of the growth of our civic culture. But surely, this situation cannot continue indefinitely. Whenever there is a vacuum something rushes in to fill it.

The visit of former Nigeria leaders, such as Alhaji Shehu Shagari (who stood in place of General Yakubu Gowon as leader of the delegation), Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Yakubu Danjuma, former Chief Justices of the Federation, Muhammadu Uwais, Alfa Belgore and Legbo Kutigi, among the others, to the National Assembly to submit a demand for Yar’Adua to hand over to his Deputy was an important omen.

Even though Obasanjo contributed to this problem, he too has called for Yar’ Adua to obey the Constitution and toe the path of honour. World leaders are worried because they know the implications of a headless government especially in volatile country like Nigeria .

It is now in Yar’Adua’s personal interest to write that letter. When the world saw that General Sani Abacha and Chief MKO Abiola had become Nigeria ’s incurable headache, a special “Panadol” was administered. It could happen again.


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